26 August 2014

Liberia: 'I Was Scared to Fail' - Liberian Schoolgirl Raped for Grade

Monrovia — Holding and feeding her baby girl, at the Touch Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK) safe home, Benita Sumo, not her real name, a 15 year-old-girl says she became a mother when she was raped by her male teacher, at age fourteen, in Kolahun, Lofa County Northern Liberia.

Her one year old child who appears sick, little weak body could hardly hold up her head, due to its size, but she slowly ate rice as her mother fed her. "I was in the 1st grade in Kolahun, and my teacher asked me to be his woman and if I refused, he will fail me," explained Benita.

"He told me if I followed him after school to see my grade, I will pass, and because I was scared to fail before my mother beat me. So, when I went to him after school, in the office, he took me to his friend's house and slept with me", says Benita

Benita is one among many little girls who are abused by their teachers or caretakers who are supposed to be protecting them, but statistics do not show the many cases that are not reported due to stigma or compromising agreement. She furthered explained that three months later, when she started vomiting, the teacher saw her and started telling neighbors, including her mother that she was carrying his child.

Amidst the difficulty of getting adjusted in society again, the compound of the THINK safe home, girls with similar cases as Benita, were seen laughing and braiding one another's hair, while another girl was changing her child's diaper.

"We have male teachers who sit the children on their laps and abuse them, because the women do not want to go into the teaching field. Therefore, we have to set up awareness for the male teachers not to sit the little girls on their laps and stop them from calling little girls their wives. That the child would not be afraid to go behind closed doors with the man, because she would think it is ok for the parents to always call the man's wife," says Gender Minister, Julia Duncan-Cassell.

Minister Cassell said the rape law is too weak, so many perpetrators are walking free, and men won't learn. "We are going to ask AFELL to look at the rape law again and strengthen it, because maybe there is something in it that makes it weak,"

She said. Minister Cassel sadly noted that they lose many of the rape cases because Criminal Court "E" usually says there is no enough evidence to prosecute perpetrators, who are mostly family members.

The teacher, who was later arrested by police in Kolahun, was taken to Voinjama and jailed, for rape and failure to support the child, but as to whether the man is still in jail, the question remains unsolved, as there was no further evidence prior to the girl coming to Monrovia.

Back to the THINK safe home where Benita came for refuge, when she was sent packing by her guardian after she gave birth, she says she wants to be a teacher when she grows and is in level one of the Adult Literacy program, and learns to sew after her classes.


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